The Day After Tomorrow (2004) Movie Review

Any film that bears the credit “directed by Roland Emmerich” is not going to be particularly deep. It’s likely to be a vapid, two-hour waste of time. It’s too bad that “The Day After Tomorrow” continues the trend.

The film begins dramatically, with the climate of the Earth rapidly shifting. Tornadoes devastate Los Angeles, severe hailstorms batter Tokyo, snow covers New Delhi, and a tidal wave covers New York City. Storm clouds form, enough to cover an entire continent. While governments and scientists struggle to find a solution to save the human race from extinction, a paleo-climatologist (Dennis Quaid) must overcome the impossible conditions to rescue his son, who is trapped in the New York Public Library.

To its credit, “The Day After Tomorrow” does have some stunning visual sequences. The scenes of tornadoes destroying Los Angeles and a massive tidal wave that sweeps over New York City are jaw dropping. Likewise, the massive bird migration is also well executed, foreshadowing the doom that is to come. If a movie was merely a bunch of cool looking scenes edited together, then this film would be fantastic. But except for only a few exceptions, there’s more to a movie than just visuals.

One obvious problem with “Tomorrow” is the plot. Besides being scientifically improbable, it has no obstacle for the heroes to overcome. Co-writers Roland Emmerich and Jeffery Nachmanoff have created a scenario so devastating that the characters can do little except stand by, watch, and worry. They come across as passive, able to monitor events but unable do anything about them. Another major problem is the second half of the film, which gets a bit boring. After witnessing an hour’s worth of carnage, watching the characters interact for another 60 minutes doesn’t cut it. You can’t help but feel that the rest of the film is anti-climactic, and that the most interesting parts of the film are over. You feel worse when you realize you’re right.

“The Day After Tomorrow” is essentially an ensemble piece, with a large cast that does little to stand out. There are a few exceptions: Dennis Quaid (“The Rookie”) gives a forceful and compassionate turn as the scientist fighting to reach his son in New York. Quaid makes you believe he truly loves his son, and would do anything to rescue him.

As his pride and joy, Jake Gyllenhaal (“Donnie Darko”) is adequate except for one scene that is pure brilliance. While trying to persuade the other survivors against leaving the library (which would result in their deaths) Gyllenhaal’s character gives the most heartfelt performance of the entire film. When speaking to them, you see the panic and desperation that plays across his face, as well as hear the urgency in his voice. He’s a high school kid whose knowledge makes him responsible for the lives of everyone around him, and his performance conveys his burden and efforts superbly.

Veterans Sela Ward (TV’s “Once and Again”) and Ian Holm (“The Lord of the Rings”) play their parts well, but both have little to do. Holm mainly sits in his lab monitoring and awaiting the inevitable, while Ward is a nurse taking care of a young cancer patient. Aside from looking worried and reading the patient “Peter Pan”, Ward’s character hasn’t much to do. In both cases, the film wastes the talents of two excellent performers.

With an environmental theme, neat sequences, and undoubtedly a hefty budget, “The Day After Tomorrow” showed a lot of promise. Too bad the promise was an empty one. What this film amounts to is an overly long and overwrought disaster film that can’t generate enough entertainment to justify the price of a ticket.

Roland Emmerich (director) / Roland Emmerich, Jeffrey Nachmanoff (screenplay)
CAST: Dennis Quaid …. Jack Hall
Jake Gyllenhaal …. Sam Hall
Emmy Rossum …. Laura Chapman

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